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Nathan Ahearne ponders the need to seek the life-giving breath of God and share it with those around us.

As I made my way to the kitchen for a morning coffee, I noticed something that resembled a jellyfish lying on the floor of my daughter’s bedroom. On closer inspection it turned out to be a toy doctor’s mask. This led me to think about the millions of face masks that have been used and discarded over the past three months, as health professionals and the members of the public protect themselves against an unseen enemy. Undoubtedly, having served their purpose, the disposed masks find their way into landfill or an incinerator, never to see the light of day again. In a similar way, an enormous number of people (particularly the elderly) have been infected by COVID-19 and sadly, many have not recovered or continue to remain isolated.

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I’ve always been captivated by the movement of jellyfish, silently gliding through the water, under the surface, alone. My short film titled ‘Breathe for them’ which you can watch here attempts to convey the loneliness and hidden reality that many face in their final days of life, struggling to breathe and supported by machines. The movement of the jellyfish captures the solitary silence that exists under the surface of hospices, nursing homes, and hospital wards. While economies sink into recession and astronauts are launched into space, Saint Teresa of Calcutta’s words remind us to “not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work” of touching “the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received.”

This is not to say that the soldiers on the ‘frontline’ are not offering the highest levels of care and compassion for those who’ve fallen to this invisible foe. But our medical teams are exhausted, short staffed, and their love can only stretch so far, as tides of patients continue to break against crowded wards. They also face what psychologists describe as ‘Moral Injury.’ Bruce Schwartz, president of the American Psychiatric Association, expects the counseling needs for medical workers to grow after the epidemic, “we're going to see a great deal of post-traumatic stress." Nurses struggle under the weight of this moral burden when they cannot touch or comfort their patients and feel impersonal and cruel. ER nurse Ramona Moll explains, "You almost feel like a robot, because you can't communicate with them, you can't explain to them; the best you can do is, with your eyes, show compassion.”

Nursing homes have become prisons in this war against fever, detained for their own safety. Security and safety protocols have made visiting elderly relatives and friends harder than breaking out of prison. Shirley Strauss, 93, lives alone in Brooklyn and says, "I was able to go out and do certain things, but now I'm stuck in the house and it's like the walls are coming down on me. I am feeling lonely, now it’s the holiday and I can’t see the family and that upsets me.” And so, our love ones sit waiting for a visitor, or at best receive our calls or videos.

Despite these challenges, we believe God has the power to breathe His love, compassion, and presence over our lives. The Hebrew word ‘ruach’ is translated in three different ways: breath, spirit, and wind. It first appears in Genesis 1:2, “The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Breath/Spirit of God (ruach Elohim) was moving over the surface of the waters.” Sarah Fisher explains that this breath is God in action. “When you breathe on the palm of your hand you can feel it. You can’t see the breath, but it touches your skin. Breath is a strange thing. It is both tangible and intangible. You can sense it and feel it. It touches you, but you cannot grab it. You cannot completely control it but it completely controls you. Without it your life is snuffed out. There is a power connected to wind and breath. A strong wind can tear down a city, and breath taken away devoids a human of life.”

As hospitals scrambled to find enough ventilators to sustain life for those in intensive care, how many of us sought the Word of God which breathes life into our spiritual being? We must ensure that we don’t allow the weeds of the world to grow tall and choke our faith communities. Let us draw God deeply into our innermost being and as we exhale, may we breathe faith, hope and love into the lives of our neighbors, schools, families and friends.

Are you aware of your own spiritual breathing? How might you draw a deep breath this week? How can we offer the breath of God to those around us?

Let us draw God deeply into our innermost being. #catholicmom

Copyright 2020 Nathan Ahearne
Image (top to bottom): Pixabay (2019); Copyright 2020 Nathan Ahearne